The lead sports story in a Mumbai newspaper today is a report of a special T20 game that is to be played between South Africa and India in Johannesburg to mark 150 years of collaboration between the two countries.
It's actually less of a report -- it doesn't for instance tell me exactly when the match is being played -- and more of a lament on the over-travelled and overburdened Indian cricket team.
The article reads: '(The Indian team) left Mumbai on Wednesday and spent nearly eight hours in travel, covering 6963 km to play South Africa in a one-off T20 game. The hosts themselves spent more than 15 hours on a plane covering 11796 km between Wellington (New Zealand) and Johannesburg to be there in time. All this effort just to play a three-hour game that will mark 150 years of collaboration between the two countries.'
It then goes on to list out the many back-to-back tournaments that the team has had to be part of, the pressure on players to perform and the impossibility of requesting the BCCI for rest (according to them, if a player wants to rest, he can't pull out. My way or the highway, it says). Then of course, there is the IPL, which according an unnamed player, few from the team seem to want to play.
If there wasn't enough cricket, now you have two more months of it and the already overworked players are dragging themselves from one stadium to the other to play three-hour matches, attending the post-match parties (because they have to) and then flying out to another city for the same routine since perhaps their contract says so.
While I do sympathise with the Indian cricket team at one level, I do have a bone to pick with those who complain that the team is over-travelled and overworked and cite just these two reasons for the recent losses. If that isn't enough, lately the IPL seems to have become another of our favourite punching bags with journalists citing 60 days of intense travelling and cricket as one of the main reasons for team fatigue.
Even though I agree with them at one level -- you are bound to be tired if you do too much of the same thing -- my sympathy for the player wavers a little here. Because it seems to me that you don't play IPL for the sake of your country or (if pundits who claim that the game's popularity is dwindling) the audience. You play for your own sake, perhaps for the money, perhaps the glamour or perhaps because you're a masochist. The reasons may differ but let's admit that IPL is one of the major cash cows not just for the BCCI but also the players who choose to go under the hammer to play two months of the game they claim they're tired of playing the year round.
In the last Annual Review of Global Sports Salaries by sportingintelligence.com, four IPL teams appeared in the top 50 as per weekly wages -- Mumbai Indians at 44, King's XI Punjab at 40, Kolkata Knight Riders at 29 and Royal Challengers Bangalore at number 26. And according to the report, IPL is second only to NBA in terms of average pay per player.
Wikipedia quotes the 2010 edition of the same report estimating that 'the average salary of an IPL player over a year would be $3.84 million' -- that's several times more than what my family and four of my neighbours' families would earn in our lifetimes.
Don't get me wrong. I do not grudge the players making so much money. It's a great thing that young Indians now have a new career opportunity before them that doesn't need poring over text books for long hours. I do have a problem, however, when they complain about it.
It won't be unfair to say that many of us work for 50 hours a week on an average. In larger cities such as Mumbai we spend about 20 hours just commuting to and from work. Let me not get started on the unskilled labourers who seem to work endlessly for all their lives.
If you haven't already read this shocking report in The Hindu about people in 27 hot-rolling steel plants in Delhi's Wazirpur industrial area working for ten long years without a single holiday, you must only to get things in perspective.
Let's face it, if you want a good work-life balance, India isn't a country for you. I suspect a part of it has to do with our colonial past when we have bent backwards to please our masters. But that's another matter. The good part about the booming economy however is that you now get paid more to do the same. Thanks to the same economy, some of us, like our cricketers get paid even when they're not working, courtesy the many brand endorsements that come their way.
In the recent Sir Donald Bradman Oration, Rahul Dravid said that Indian cricketers weren't 'pampered superstars'.(Watch the entire speech here).
I would have loved to believe him, except that I cannot, certainly not when I see the flashy lifestyles of some of our cricketers.
Surely they work hard but so does the lowly call centre employee, the IT support guy, your domestic help, the people who construct tall glass buildings and endless stretches of roads. And everyone gets paid for it. Some more than others.
Cricketers, like everyone else, are paid to do their job. So it would be really nice if we stop treating them like poor little rich kids and simply hope they just pad up and do what they are being paid for.
Recently, I met a promising 14-year-old cricketer who is set to visit the UK this summer for a training camp. For his parents who work in the Indian Railways, it is a matter of pride for no one in their families -- immediate or extended -- has ever travelled beyond the seven seas so to say. His father is particularly excited about this and unlike many of our parents he has been supporting his son in whatever way he can. Needless to say, the boy hopes to make a career in cricket and play for the Indian team one day. I gingerly ask him if he won't miss his parents and family because cricket these days demands a heck of a lot of travel. "That's all right," he tells me, "I'll earn enough money and then quit a few years later."
I wish him the best, but I suspect the money will never be enough and those few years will not be so few after all.
Photograph: Getty Images